Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dressing Cute for Strangers

I think my parents are concerned that their oldest daughter might become an old maid. They didn't say it like that, but I knew something was up when I got the e-mail yesterday.

I already had plans to have lunch with them yesterday, so I was surprised to get a last minute e-mail instructing me to "Bring something cute to wear in case you stay for the party."

Of course I knew nothing about any party and I was planning to drive back in the late afternoon. But, like the occasionally dutiful daughter that I am, I packed a cute dress and hit the road. Driving out to the Northern Neck, I passed a good number of vehicles pulling boats and even the shortest Airstream I've ever seen, but still sleek and silver, all heading river-ward with me.

Once I got to Tappahannock and Warsaw, I started seeing evidence of the locals talking to Mother Nature. Gas stations, little stores and garages had signboards saying things like "Stay away Earl" and "Forget Earl, we're open!"

Lunch was po' boys at the local crab shack because they were celebrating the arrival of the "R" months by frying up oysters and shack-made potato chips. We took our lunches to an outside picnic table and enjoyed the "R" month-like weather as locals stopped by to do the same. My parents had a story about almost all of them; at the very least, they knew who they were related to and where they lived. I will never be the small town type.

I waited until we'd eaten to inquire about the party. It seems one of their neighbors was having a Labor Day get-together, starting with dinner at an historic local tavern and then festivities afterwards back on the river. They'd been invited and had offered me up instead, claiming I'd be more of a party asset.

The little town where my parents live has about half year round residents and the other half are second homes; a surprising number of those getaway houses belong to men who teach at various universities in central Virginia (W & M, VCU, Mary Washington).

The one who was hosting the soiree had invited out-of-town guests as well as a few choice neighbors and my parents said they'd feel old at such a party. That's where I came in apparently.

With no real plans for last night, I figured why not stay, if not for the night, at least for part of the party? Besides, my folks had raved about the restaurant at the Lancaster Tavern, so at the very least it would be a nice meal in a most historic building.

So after an afternoon chatting with the people who were hoping to offer me up to strangers, I cleaned up and we walked over so they could make the introductions ("Here's our firstborn and love child, who, unlike our other five daughters can't seem to settle down with a nice man. Can you help?").

Awkward as it sounds (and could have been) both my host and his friends provided a warm welcome and within moments I had more people to talk to than I could have hoped for. We spent a very pleasant cocktail hour mingling and getting to know each other.

But my parents were probably right: it wouldn't have been their scene. And then it was almost reservation time. so we divided up into cars and headed out to chow down.

The tavern, located across the street from the county's original jail (gaol?) and County Clerk's offices and Virginia's shortest road (curved and about the length of eight cars) was charming looking. Built in 1790 after the court deemed it a "public advantage," I could see where it still fit that description in a county with fewer than a half dozen restaurants.

Doorways and archways were barely 6' tall, window glass was wavy and the chimney enormous, servicing four fireplaces. Outside was an epic sycamore tree, magnificent for its size and width. It was fenced off, but had no identifying information and I was eager to know more about such a fine specimen.

When I inquired inside, though, I learned that the tree has some very negative connotations in the county, having been used for more than a few lynchings. The waitress actually cringed when I asked her about it, but allowed as how it was wonderful when they had outdoor events, spreading its shade far and wide.

The menu had ten entrees and, not surprisingly, five of them were seafood (six if you got your fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp). I opted for the pan seared scallops, which were so perfectly seasoned and cooked that I kept eating them long after I was full.

But if I'm honest, I'll admit I was most excited about the vegetable of the day: butter beans. I had no doubt that a place like Lancaster Tavern would do them right and did they ever. I finished my bowl o' beans and half of someone else's; they were that good.

The last line on the menu noted that, "Home-made deserts and fresh vegetable from Tavern Garden." Misspelling and lack of plural aside, I thought it was funny to include those two things in the same garden reference. As it turned out, though, one dessert did come from out back: the peach cobbler. Enormous and served on a plate bigger than our salads had come on, it was topped with cinnamon whipped cream, making for a truly lovely finish to a most enjoyable meal.

Back at the river, music was cranked, drinks were poured and we made ready to set up camp on the riverbank for the fireworks show across the Rappahannock in Matthew's County. I wouldn't have guessed that Labor Day was celebrated with pyrotechnics, but then I don't really know the ways of river life, either. With the beautiful evening weather, I decided I had made the right decision about where to spend my evening.

It was a most interesting mix of people and our host was charming and funny, frequently changing the dynamic of the party with his suggestions. If I was going to be offered up to strangers, at least they were witty and fun people. And I definitely made some new friends.

Things finally started breaking up around 1:30, although some of the come-here guests were staying in the host's house, so they didn't have far to crawl to find their beds. I only had to walk a few houses down the deserted road to reach my parents' unlocked house and dive into bed.

And this morning, I woke up to Belgian waffles, Vermont syrup and country sausage with a side of inquisitive parental units. I gave them what details I could, but I didn't want to sound too encouraging.

No telling who they'll be offering me up to next time. Besides, out of six daughters, what's one old maid? I'd say those odds are about right.


  1. Your parents must remember that you did the deed (marriage), you just didn't spread it out, like others!